What I’m Learning About Sharing My Story
Yesterday, I posted about my journey through this last year. I told the story that had led to a crisis of faith for me and my journey back (I have by no means “arrived”). The response toward it was overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about if, how, or when I would share my story for a while, but the timing never seemed right and I wasn’t convinced it was anything anyone wanted to hear it. For a long time for me, when I would write, I would mostly share what I thought people wanted to hear and that often would lead to the typical “Sunday School” answers you would expect from a ministry leader. Yesterday, I said to h*^% with it and shared my heart. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot right about “Sunday School” answers and if I would have paid better attention in Sunday School (or actually acted upon what I already knew), maybe my story would look different. The problem with “Sunday School” answers is not so much with the answers themselves but in their timing and how they are delivered from other “class mates”. If there is any bitterness I may still harbor about this last year, it’s probably in that. For example, when a 15 year old girl is mourning over her mother’s tragic and untimely death, it’s not the time to tell her that “heaven has received another angel” (which really shouldn’t be a Sunday School answer either, but I digress). Or when you’ve lost everything and have nothing, it’s not the time to hear “Oh, you’ll bounce back” when you don’t even know how you’re going to pay for your next meal. I’ve received lots of “advice” over the past several months, but the best “advice” I received was from a former pastor’s wife who really offered no advice at all, but simply shared her own story. She said,
“I can’t imagine what you are going through because my pain is very different from yours, but I do understand pain (and she does). All I can tell you is that there will come a day when you are tired of being hurt and you will pick yourself up and move on. I can’t tell you when that will be or what your process will be for getting there, but if you’ll hold on, that time will come.“
I listened to her because I knew enough about her story to know she was speaking from experience and if she could do it, maybe I could too. So I just want to share a few brief thoughts about what I’m learning about having shared my own story and hopefully, it will encourage you to share yours, no matter how ugly you might think it is.
People are more gracious than you might think.
That’s probably the biggest fear I had about sharing my story–“what will people think?”. That fear alone has probably hindered more love, innovation and progress than any other fear on the planet. Will Smith (that great theologian and rap recording artist) has said “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.” He also said “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” For most church people, our currency is not money but pride, but it works the same way. Sure, even yesterday I had a few “unfriend” me on Facebook or change my status, but that pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of people who actually resonated with my story. Your story is different, but needs to be told just the same. Don’t worry about what people think and just be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Which leads me to my next thought:
No one else can tell your story for you.
Your story is unique. So are you. No one else can tell your story for you, especially if you’ve never shared it. One day you might be quoted in books or blogs, or maybe you’ll just help your child see you’re human after all and help them through a difficult time. Either way, your story is worth sharing and someone, somewhere needs to hear it. Can you imagine where we would be if we never knew the whole story of Peter or David from the Bible? (That may be a bit unfair, because most of the “bad” stuff was written by someone else, but that’s what you get for having it recorded FOREVER in the Bible). Why do their stories inspire us so? Because more of us identify with them than we often care to admit. Failure is part of life. We all have failed or will fail (most of us in big ways at some point). Don’t rob your world of a story that could make sure someone else’s continues (suicide and complacency are all too common in our culture–both are nearly as tragic). I’ve been too close to both myself, and it’s the stories I’ve heard from those not afraid to share it that have literally kept me alive.
Telling your story helps reinforce your own values.
By telling my story out loud (and on the intrawebs), I help to solidify those things that I truly hold dear. As much as I wanted to run both from my story and my values, my values kept coming to the surface. Not the exterior ones that can shape and change with time, but the ones you know deep down inside are really you. The non-negotiables. For me, as much as I wanted to give up on God and run and see “how the other half lives”, I couldn’t–well, not for long. The whole time I was running, I knew I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be. BUT, I also found that for too long, I had confused my values with those things that I thought others also wanted to see. Tragedy and trauma have a way of stripping you down to nothing but who you really are. Regardless of how successful or tragic your life has been, you are not your job, your title, your knowledge, your bank account, or even your relationships (or the lack of any of those things). You are you. Nothing more, nothing less. And believe it or not, it’s actually you that people want to know. Regardless of your position in life (or lack thereof), that’s what people really want and need. They really don’t care about your image–really. But you’ll have to find that out for yourself.
Your story can be more helpful than you realize.
I had no idea what kind of response I would get from telling my story (and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care). You see, at the time, it was more of a selfish endeavor. I shared it more for me than for anyone else–or so I thought. While I have a very small platform, relatively speaking, the response that I have received has been more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. I mean, who is really going to find inspiration from a self-avowed hypocrite who has turned his back on all he claimed to believe and still is not completely sure of where he is now? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. I guess we all identify with failure, though, but we don’t really like to think about it (and definitely not write about it!). All I can hope is that in sharing my story, I have encouraged others to share their story too. Go ahead and put it out there. Whether it’s a casual conversation with a friend or a spouse, or published for the world to see, somebody, somewhere needs to hear it, and even if not–you need to tell it. Telling my story has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Go ahead–the people you’re trying to impress by keeping it to yourself don’t really care anyway, but if you tell it, you may be surprised by the audience.
What scares you most about your own story? What do you think it would take for you to share it?
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling